June 29, 2008

"My loony bun is fine, Benny Lava."

Via Andrew Sullivan, the ultimate in misheard lyrics:



Amusingly misheard lyrics can be called mondegreens, as explained here by Gavin Edwards:
Misheard lyrics come with many alternate names, only some of which form compound nouns when joined with the word "boneheaded." Some of the names that have been used: Music Ear Disturbance, disclexia, chronic lyricosis, and Litellas (after Gilda Radner's befuddled Saturday Night Live character). The technical term prized by aficionados is mondegreen. If your dictionary doesn't include "mondegreen," throw it out and buy a better one.

The term "mondegreen" was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen." As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn't realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And laid him on the green."...

Any misheard lyric is an impromptu audio Rorshach test. It can be alarming to discover that significant parts of our brains want pop songs to cover the lyrical topics of cheese, walruses, and clowns....

Some people never learn the words to a favorite song--or transmute them into something more to their own taste. My friend Alma liked Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" because she thought the title was "I supply the fish."
We hear what we love to hear.

ADD: I gotta get my Fred and Wilma. (These song translations are a whole genre on YouTube. Click around.)

43 comments:

George said...

Gumnaam?

AllenS said...

Anybody remember the song from the early 60's called Louie Louie by the Kingsmen? That was probably the first song that everybody was convinced contained dirty words.

Oh, baby, we gotta go...

Susan said...

"Secret Asian Man". I always knew it was Agent but I still always heard Asian.

Paul Zrimsek said...

We hear what we love to hear.

Yeah. We've noticed.

Ann Althouse said...

I always heard Secret Agent Man because I knew it was the title of the song, but when I read that people heard Secret Asian Man, I listened carefully the next time, and he really is singing "Asian." So that was a case of reverse mondegreen. I heard what I knew I was supposed to hear.

Bissage said...

(1) Great stuff! The subtitles for that video are so much fun I had a hard time obeying the biological imperative to keeping watching out for breast shots.

(2) I don’t get around much anymore. Otherwise I might have realized that not all Indian women look like my ophthalmologist.

(3) THAT DUDE = ( GEORGE MICHAEL + ( LINK X JERRY LEWIS )).

Good for him!

(4) But why does that video start out with the fight music from Star Trek?

corporate law drudge said...

Purple Haze: "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy."

Susan said...

How funny. I always thought I was the only one to hear Asian instead of Agent.

Also, I always heard "Poetry in Motion" as "Oh! A Tree in Motion".

Undertoad said...

A classic: Pearl Jam - Yellow Ledbetter

Bob said...

The inimitable Cecil Adams at The Straight Dope had a discussion on the lyrics of Louie, Louie years ago; apparently it's the sine qua non of misunderstood song lyrics.

michael farris said...

The Benny Lava video is not a case of misheard lyrics, but of blind (or homophonic) translation, in which a text in one language is transferred to another not on the basis of meaning but finding words with similar sounds.

My favorite blind translation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRUGGy9RVrM

TMink said...

My father loved going to church as a child because he could sing about Gladly, the crosseyed bear.

For some reason, I turned Mike Nesmith's beginning to "You Just May be the One" to "Hail Nimbus" from "all men must."

I am still not sur how I did that.

Trey

P. Rich said...

We hear what we love to hear.

Obamaluv. You set that up, didn't you Althouse?

rhhardin said...

apparently it's the sine qua non of misunderstood song lyrics.

That's the je ne sais quoi of misunderstood song lyrics.

Ron said...

I have a good example on my group video blog...

http://drunkpunktv.blogspot.com/2008/06/finally-it-makes-sense.html

former law student said...

Jon Carroll of the S.F. Chronicle runs an annual column of mondegreens. My favorite from childhood was from Creedence Clearwater Revival:

Don't go out tonight
They're bound to take your life
There's a bathroom on the right.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

The girl with colitis goes by.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Huey Lewis and the News

I want a new truck

steven said...

Remember the Steve Miller Band's hit "Jet Airliner"? I believe part of the lyrics went "big ol' jet airliner, don't carry me too far away." My brother, in his younger days, always sang that first part as "bingo jet had a light on". I tried to tell him he was wrong, but that is the way it sounded to him

misterarthur said...

Ancient (in internet time) video clip, Ann. I thought you were more up to date on these sorts of things.

Drew W said...

How about “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts: Summer breeze, makes me feel fine/Blowing through the jazzman in my mind . . .

Wow, I thought. What a concept. A jazzman in your mind. If I had a jazzman in my mind, he’d be cool, improvisatory, and probably wearing shades too.

And don’t forget “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray: Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul/I wanna get lost in your rock’n’roll and drift away . . .

I could never figure out why a R&B singer would be so fond of a white Southern California surf-rock combo, but I figured the jazzman in my mind would have no trouble at all with the concept.

And here’s one final one from my daughter. Listening to the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That,” she kept hearing I’m gonna let you down/And leave you plaid.

And when I was her age and heard “Purple Haze,” I always thought that it was a gauge of just how cool Jimi Hendrix was that he’d do something so socially transgressive that he’d kiss a guy. And not care what anybody thought. What could I say? It left me plaid.

Beth said...

My first mondegreen discovery was in Beverly Cleary's Beatrice and Ramona books. Ramona sang about the "dawnzer lee light" and as soon as I got that joke, I started seeing "mondegreens" everywhere and realized I'd made a few of my own.

doubtinggaurav said...

The guy is Prabhu Deva, choreographer turned actor acting (mainly) in Tamil movies.He has got moves, if I may say so.

Chip Ahoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chip Ahoy said...

It didn't make sense why Rocket Man was burn'n all the shoes off everyone. At length, a friend worked out he was actually burning all the fuel off all alone.

Undertoad said...

Oh! This reminds me of my friend's five-year-old, who recently sang:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all popsicles in my way...

chuckR said...

When they were young, my kids enjoyed a rousing sing-a-long with Creedence Clearwater's hit "There's a bathroom on the right". Mangled lyrics and toilet humor is a winner at a certain age.....

reader_iam said...

Beth: My son, when much younger, once sang "A Mighty Faucet is Our God." I rather liked that imagery, myself.

That was in the same era in which he initially sang Althouse's podcast theme song as "Edible Althouse" (I used to listen all the time through the living room speakers). Cute.

Nowadays, he doesn't remember either of those things, though he does refer to Althouse as "Alternate House," which I don't correct, because it amuses me so much.

Ann Althouse said...

reader, that's pretty funny.

I never do those podcasts anymore. Keep thinking I'm still podcasting, but it's been almost a year...

blake said...

My six-year-old at the time used to sing the "Enterprise" theme. The lyrics were something like...

I've got faith
Of the heart


No, really! Someone wrote that! (Someone with six Oscar noms!)

The Boy used to sing it as:

I've got faith
Alcohol


And so it was thereafter, evermore.

I actually do think part of this is the fact that the pop lyrics are a combination of bad, generic and/or banal most of the time. Even if we do hear the lyrics, they're meant to be easily interpreted to a wide variety of situations. That's how you make the big bucks in songwriting: covers.

The talented Loudon Wainwright once tried to write a song that someone else could actually cover (since his songs are usually rather specific), and of course failed miserably:


Here's a song
For someone else to sing
With a universal
And generic ring
It's all about the same old stuff
That you like
And can't get enough of
How about a minor chord right here?

Palladian said...

Caribou squeeze

Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

And if anyone can find any single piece of media that encapsulates the essential mediocre terribleness of the middle 'Eighties better than the video linked in my previous comment, please let me know. That video stinks of damp Lycra, Studio Line fixing spray and Christian Dior "Poison".

reader_iam said...

Oh, damn you, Palladian, I don't have time just this very minute to 'splain the background, and I'm not even maintaining what I'm about to link is worse--er, better?--but it sure is all of piece.

A pox on Palladian.

And thanks for the worm, damn it. Not!

Palladian said...

Ahhhhh!!!!!

Palladian said...

You know, I have a special terror of Rick Astley, that video in particular. When I was young, I used to be taken to an amusement park called Hershey Park. Sometimes the queues for the rides were quite long, so the park hung television monitors above the cattle corrals so that you could be "entertained" while you waited. During one of those trips, on a very hot day, the television monitors played that video, Rick Astley's "Together Forever". Every one of the monitors. On every ride. All day. Over and over again. I cringe as I recall the hours standing in the humid heat as a child, forced to watch that video and hear the song again and again, all day long.

You can see the effects of such a trauma by observing my personality today.

Thank you, reader_iam.

former law student said...

If it's late enough for me to join the threadjack: I loved Jaan Pehechaan Ho in the otherwise fairly creepy Ghost World. (Although on normal sized screens, the dancing looks rather bizarre, especially when the lead woman shakes her hands and head.) When I was in college, the campus radio station was reserved on Saturdays for Music of India. At that time, at least, Indian popular music was all from the films. One cabinet held stacks of 100% Hindi film music, with record labels such as Dum-Dum, HMV, and if I remember right, Hindustan.

gaurav, I learned when I bought the DVD (somehow cheaper than the CD) that the actor was actually lip-synching a famous singer, Moh'd. Rafi.

michael farris said...

"I learned when I bought the DVD (somehow cheaper than the CD) that the actor was actually lip-synching a famous singer, Moh'd. Rafi."

That's standard practice in the half-dozen or so Indian movie industries. No actor or actress sings their own songs (that I've heard of) instead they use playback singers who specialize in singing and not being seen in movies.

This used to happen in Hollywood too with singers like Marnie(sp?) Nixon and there's something to be said for the process.
Actually having professional vocalists sing instead of the actors would have improved Sweeney Todd a great deal. Depp and Bonham Carter just didn't have the pipes to do the material justice.

reader_iam said...

Oh, I'm so sorry that the reality is that this thread, at this point, is a dead one, first--and foremost--because I wasn't able to do justice (or even respect) in responding to Palladian, and second--certainly trivially--because I would like to have shared this in context of the earlier, live thread.

And now we're at Monday again. So it goes, and there it is.

Kev said...

Eh, Reader, the thread's not dead yet, especially for those of us out there having a rare can't-get-to-sleep night. A few thoughts:

It's way out of season, but snopes.com has a great collection of holiday mondegreens--the first place I became familiar with that term. (They took out the best one, IMHO, which was a misheard version of the "figgy pudding" line in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The mondegreen was "Oh, bring us some friggin' pudding.")

I guess I'm behind the times as well, because I had never seen the Benny Lava video either. That was LMAO funny.

And Reader, you did a fine job of pseudo-Rickrolling Palladian. The funny thing about "Together Forever" is that the chord progression in the chorus are identical to those of "Never Gonna Give You Up," Astley's previous hit. That spawned a great song parody by some morning DJ's here in Dallas at the time; I can't remember the entire thing, but put these lyrics to the "Together Forever" chorus and you'll have the idea:

This song is exactly the same as the first
We just changed the lyrics around


You get the idea.

(It was a bad move on my part to read this post in the hopes of going to sleep soon; I'm still laughing too hard from the Benny Lava video.)

Melinda said...

What a concept. A jazzman in your mind.

Drew, I heard it as "chasm in my mind." I thought, "Wow, I knew Seals & Crofts was a mellow band, but they're advocating having an actual chasm?"

Kev said...

What a concept. A jazzman in your mind.

As one who teaches and plays jazz for a living, there's pretty much a jazzman in my mind 24/7. :-)

Modern Otter said...

A couple of Bob Dylan mondegreens:

Lie a Rolling Stone:
"You've gone to the finest schools alright, Miss Lonely, but you know you only used to get TOO SKINNY" (juiced in it)

Chimes of Freedom
"Electric lights still struck like arrow, firing FORTY WATTS" (for the ones).